Breaking the Rules
The previous post had examples of where the author broke what seem to be cardinal rules of writing and not only got away with it, but produced a stunning novel.
Great, I can do what I want
This type of break-the-mold book can make some writers think, “I can write whatever I want because these celebrated authors did.” Given this mindset, the writer might be resistant to feedback which tries to steer him to more tried and true methods. He might even see it as trying to dampen or change his unique voice.
Uh-huh. Well, okay, there’s always the possibility you’re writing an iconoclastic novel which will confound your critics when published to great acclaim. I always leave that possibility open. And I do buy that if you don’t believe in your novel, nobody else will. So, you may be right. But on the other hand, you might not be. So, why not read the rest of this before you toss the idea?
Walking then running
These writers didn’t skip from novice to iconoclast in one leap. Cormac McCarthy has been publishing novels for over 35 years. Similarly, Hamid, the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, has both a long history of writing for prestigious journals but also had already published a much acclaimed novel, Moth Smoke, before Fundamentalist.
These authors undoubtedly spent many long years honing their craft so that they could use the traditional methods with ease and mastery. It is only after they reached that high level of competence that they understood when a particular technique didn’t serve the needs of the story, and launched into something which amazed their readers with its audacity.
How do you square the rules circle?
So, what if your writing teacher or writer friends are telling you one thing and you think you’re following a different star? Well, as I’ve elaborated in other posts, slow down the automatic reaction to reject the feedback and try to find anything that might be useful in it.
Say the feedback is that your descriptions are too long even if beautifully written. This sticks in your craw. They admit the passages are stunning and still want them cut down. What’s with that? Have they no literary sensibility?
So, here’s where you need to slow down. Ask yourself questions like:
- Is there anything useful in the feedback?
- Too long for what reason? What is it preventing the reader from doing?
- Is it possible that the delightful description is slowing the action?
You might huff that your readers should invest the time required to allow you to fully paint the atmosphere in which the action is taking. Fair enough. You may be right.
However, how horrible would it be if you experimented with moving more quickly to action?
I’m not suggesting you do so and then lay the new piece before your critics as you confess the error of your ways. But just when it’s you and the computer, could you give it a try and then decide its value? Does it help the narrative? Does it serve the story better to rein in the description? If the answer is on balance, yes, then factor this into your future writing. If on balance, no, then you’ve seriously considered the feedback and decided to ignore it which is okay.